Story of Snow Queen

Aberdeen’s Snow Queen Festival began after World War II when officials from the St. Paul Winter Carnival approached Aberdeen with the idea of becoming a satellite of the Carnival  The Aberdeen Jaycees and Jaycettes took responsibility for organizing the first Snow Queen Festival in 1946, each contributing $10-$25 toward expenses. Candidates in the first festival came from twelve communities, Aberdeen and the towns within a few miles.

The first festival was held in Aberdeen’s Civic Arena for the capacity crowd of 3,500, each of whom paid the one dollar admission fee which also entitled them to attend the dance after coronation.  Dorothy Lockington, who represented Aberdeen was crowned the first Snow Queen in January of 1947.  The committee had little time to make preparations as the invitation to send a representative from Aberdeen to the Winter Carnival came a mere two months prior to show time.  The St. Paul organization did send two women, a pianist and a director, to assist with the first coronation.  Billy Bishop’s band from Chicago happened to be playing at dances in the area and agreed to appear at the festival for a fee of $250, a fraction of their normal rate, to fill an open date on their schedule.  There was no money for elaborate stage decorations.  Holiday decorations were borrowed from anyone willing to share, and Christmas trees were picked up from Aberdeen homes after the holiday for use on the stage.  (In later years, trees not sold prior to the holiday were saved for the festivals because “taking tinsel off the used tress was just too much work” according to the early stage decorators!) The front sidewalk approaching the arena was a solid bank of colored lights which were borrowed from the theaters at Northern State and the Masonic Temple.  The Brown County Fair Board contributed platforms to be used as a runway for the contestants.

As with any winter event scheduled in the area, the weather was a concern.  Forecasters were calling for a huge snowstorm to blanket northeastern South Dakota right on festival day, but luck prevailed and the storm veered north and east of Aberdeen.  The 1947 Snow Queen Festival was held in beautiful winter weather. Britton was the first town to host a local contest and four contestants signed up.  However, it was so cold the night of their event that only three of the four were able to participate.  The first contest in Selby was held by candlelight because a blizzard had downed the power lines.

By 1949, the Festival had grown substantial and the 1949 Miss America, Beebe Shoppe, agreed to be the headliner for the third festival.  This growth continued, and by 1971, the winner of the 25th Anniversary Festival won prizes including an eight-day trip to Puerto Rico with her parents, a scholarship to the school of her choice, winter and summer wardrobes and use of a car, boat, and snowmobile during her reign.  She also traveled to Washington D.C. for the Cherry Blossom Festival and represented the Festival at the St. Paul Winter Carnival and the Montevideo Fiesta.

In 1949, the first frosty was crowned as part of the festival.  Frosty is a prominent business person or public figure, who dons the white snowman’s suit and takes part in the festival events as a mystery snowman with his identity being revealed during the coronation.  Such notables as US Representative Ben Feifel, and Governors Jo Foss and Nils Boe have been Frosty.  Frosty is escorted to these events by uniformed Snow Guards, the only ones knowing the identity of Frosty.  The guards are appointed for a three year term and each has been a past president of the Aberdeen Jaycee organization or past Festival General Chairperson.  The Guards select Frosty each year with specific criteria including: contributions to the festival, community and state of South Dakota.  In the mid-1960s, “GASM” was organized for former Snow Guards, Frostys and even organizers.  After each festival, the festival General Chairperson and Frosty become new members of GASM.  The group meets yearly to renew old friendships, relive memories, and participate in festival events.

Another tradition added into the Festival in 1955, was that crowning a Junior Snow Queen.  Contestants for this crown are freshmen with early participants representing only Aberdeen Junior High Schools, at the time Simmons and Monroe.  Beginning in 1972, the Junior Snow Queen contestants represented towns throughout the state just as their senior counterparts did.  The junior and senior talent portion of the Festival was added in 1956.  The selection of a little Prince and Princess to participate in the Festival began in the mid-1980s. One of the fundraising traditions of the Snow Queen Festival, the First Button Auction, began in 1981 with that year’s first button going to the high bidders representing Kessler’s, Tim and George Kessler.

Significant anniversaries for both Aberdeen and the Snow Queen Festival were celebrated in 2006: Aberdeen’s 125th and the 60th Annual Snow Queen Festival. Sponsorship of the Festival changed hands in the 2000s.  It is now under the directorship of the South Dakota Snow Queen Committee and has continued to grow and provide young women the opportunity to earn college scholarships.  

Once the Festival is completed, the newly crowned Snow Queen and her Junior Snow Queen are quickly fitted for gowns and begin to prepare for their upcoming year representing South Dakota at various other Festivals.   Some of their appearances include:  St. Paul Winter Carnival, Minneapolis Aquatennial, Montevideo Fiesta Days, Willmar Fest, Gypsy Days, Bands Brews & BBQs, the Brown County Fair, and any other events that work into their schedule.  Each year, these girls are representing their peers, local communities, Aberdeen, and the State of South Dakota. They experience how to build their network, enhance their speaking abilities, learn about new cultures, and are educated on the vast array of opportunities the State of South Dakota can offer all while earning themselves a college scholarship.